Baroness Liz Barker writes … My Lords speech on the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill

wedding ringsMy Lords, I declare an interest. Many years ago I had the great good fortune to meet someone. She and I have loved one another ever since – apart, that is, from the occasional spectacular argument, usually about driving or DIY. As the slogan on T-shirts in the 1980s said: it happens in the best of families.

Whilst marriage is robust and enduring, what is meant by marriage has developed and changed significantly. Marriage was redefined in 1986, otherwise there would not now be any civil marriages in this country. Marriage laws were redefined in 1949, otherwise under-16-year-olds would still be able to get married.

The Bill that we are considering today does not undermine any existing or future marriages. What it does is extend the status of marriage to gay men and to lesbians who want to make a public commitment in the presence of their families and friends – and in some cases co-religionists, the majority of whom want to celebrate the marriage of lesbians and gay men.

Some noble Lords say that allowing gay people to get married is unfair as it leaves other sorts of relationships, such as those of siblings, without the same legal rights as those who choose a marital status.

If enabling gay marriage will be unfair to a relationship, for example between two sisters, then existing marriage laws are equally wrong and unfair. Opponents of gay marriage never make that argument.

But, my Lords, relationships which adults enter into voluntarily are wholly distinct from relationships determined by consanguinity. If family members could become civil partners, it would be easy for a bullying parent or sibling to place members of their family into a partnership, or prevent them forming a partnership of their choice, simply in order to protect property. Nobody should want to legislate for that.

A great deal has been made of the issue of a conscience clause for registrars and other public servants. My Lords, I grew up in a time and a place when discrimination in public services on the basis of a person’s religion was not uncommon. It caused resentment and divided communities.

The idea that individual public servants should decide according to their personal beliefs who does and does not receive a public service is quite wrong. Taxes are levied on a non-discriminatory basis – and services should be provided on a non-discriminatory basis.

Some opponents of this Bill say that we should not be addressing this issue when we face economic difficulties. I disagree. That is because discrimination always comes at a cost.

In the USA, hundreds of employers, some small and some of the biggest like Nike and Microsoft, are assisting legal cases in support of gay marriage. These employers need to recruit and retain the most productive staff to make their businesses competitive, and that includes lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender workers.

These businesses want their LGBT employees to be able to focus on their jobs, not on dealing withthe inequality that means their families can only ‘sit in the back of the bus’. My Lords, if businesses – and a growing number of countries have worked out that same-sex marriage is good for business – then so should we.

My Lords, this Bill is about religious freedom. As someone who was raised a Methodist, that is something which has always been important. No religion will be compelled to offer a same-sex marriage. And on the same basis we should not deny the rights of those religious organisations who wish to extend their fellowship to gay people and their families.

My Lords, there is no impediment which would prevent this House from subjecting this Bill to the high standard of scrutiny which it would apply to any other. Members of your Lordships’ House will think long and hard, as they always do, about what is right and in the best interests of society.

I look forward to joining with noble Lords from all parts of the House to ensure that gay people and their families are afforded the dignity and respect that others take for granted and that families, faiths and communities can grow strong together as a result.

My Lords, my upbringing was in the Methodist Church and I have listened to great preachers all my life. A sermon to which I listen often is the one from 2004 when, speaking at Southwark Cathedral , Archbishop Desmond Tutu, described how:

We struggled against apartheid in South Africa, supported by people the world over, because black people were being blamed and made to suffer for something we could do nothing about – our very skin.

It is the same with sexual orientation. It is a given. I could not have fought against the discrimination of apartheid and not also fight against the discrimination that homosexuals endure, even in our churches and faith groups.

Opposing apartheid is a matter of justice. Opposing discrimination against women is a matter of  justice. Opposing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is a matter of justice.

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  • A fantastic speech outlying in a clear and dignified manner why this bill is so important and why the arguments made against it are so wrong.

    I also find it disgusting and repugnant that some people are trying to make out that same-sex marriages are the same as marriages between family members. I have even heard people claim that allowing same-sex marriage is like allowing people to marry animals. Could these people be anymore insulting.

  • Paul in Twickenham 4th Jun '13 - 9:46am

    This morning I was reading about (now here’s a name from the past) Phyllis Schlafly who is still around and still as odious as ever she was. You remember Phyllis… she thought that Nixon was a leftie because he supported the end of segregation and organized “moral Republicans” to oppose Nixon because of his position “against segregation and discrimination”.

    Back in the 1970’s when she was campaigning against the Equal Rights Amendment (which guaranteed equals rights for women) she claimed inter alia that passing the ERA would mean that all public restrooms would have to be unisex.

    As I have watched some of the rot being spouted on the subject of equal marriage (such as Tebbit’s extraordinary statements) I have been irresistably reminded of old Phyllis, railing against progress like some latter-day Canute (yeah, I know, I know..).

  • Great speech.

  • robert sayer 4th Jun '13 - 10:51am

    makes me proud of our party and who we have in it

  • Robert Hamilton 6th Jun '13 - 9:11am

    A worthwhile set of statements each stimulating debate and thought from woman who has deep experience of modern living. Could this be an opportunity I have not had before to ask a some one in a long and deeply satisfying same sex relationship what could be added to it by calling it marriage. My Libdem friends, all traditional and straight, offer status as a response but we struggle to know what that means.

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